By S.V. Date
WASHINGTON ― They raised the scaffolding up the side of the Capitol, tore down the flag of the United States and, to cheers from their fellow rioters below, hoisted in its place the flag of their hero, Donald Trump.
As Republicans regroup following the loss of the White House and both chambers of Congress in just two years, that single image from Jan. 6 may best illustrate their fundamental problem: A significant percentage of their voting base remains more loyal to the former president personally than the party as a whole, to the point where some of those Trump supporters participated in a violent mob attack on the seat of government to intimidate Congress into keeping him in power even though he lost reelection resoundingly to Democrat Joe Biden.
“Perfect act of a treasonous cult. Their allegiance is to Donald Trump, not the United States of America,” said former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who unsuccessfully ran against Trump for the party’s 2020 nomination.
HuffPost video of the arrival of rioters on the second floor of the Senate shows that the first to reach the landing was wearing a shirt featuring the logo of QAnon, the bizarre cult built around the trappings of evangelical Christianity and featuring Trump himself as a God-sent messiah.
So entrenched are “Q” followers in the pro-Trump movement that several state Republican parties have actively sought to bring them into the fold. The Texas party even declared: “We are the storm,” mimicking QAnon’s prediction of a coming cataclysm.
Two new Republican House members, Colorado’s Lauren Boebert and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, were elected despite – or perhaps because of – their openness to the “Q” conspiracy theory, which holds that the U.S. government is rife with Satan-worshippers, financed by wealthy Jews, who drink a magical elixir made from the blood of murdered children, and that Trump will someday bring them all to justice.
“Many of us who had loved ones making their daily schedules around what he and QAnon spoke had hoped that after the swearing-in of Biden, they would see the error of their ways,” said Kendal Unruh, a Colorado Christian school teacher and former Republican activist who led the unsuccessful effort at the 2016 convention to dump Trump as the nominee. “As is typical with brainwashed cult thinking, the dates of salvation and destruction, as well as antagonists and their ‘evil’ plans, only morph and change with each passing moment of reality that proves them to be deluded.”
It’s unclear how important QAnon adherents are in the GOP voting base. QAnon, which surfaced online in the fall of 2017, was viewed favorably by 18% of Republicans in a recent Economist/YouGov poll, while 40% had a negative view, and 43% said they didn’t know. (Among Democrats, those figures were 8%, 81% and 10%, respectively.)
While Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told The Associated Press in a recent interview that QAnon was “beyond fringe” and “dangerous,” Trump himself willingly accepted its support and has refused to denounce its followers. “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said in August.
Meaning, longtime Republicans point out that as the party starts laying the groundwork for the 2022 midterm elections, past heroes like President Ronald Reagan, writer William F. Buckley and former Rep. Jack Kemp of New York have been replaced with Trump, the anonymous “Q,” and Greene.
“It tolerates the destruction of all of the founding principles of the Republican Party,” said Sally Bradshaw, for decades a top aide and confidante to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two Republican presidents. “It does make me sad. Because I spent 30 years in the process trying to make a difference.”